Policarpo Chavira, a former bus driver and union leader in one of the world’s most dangerous cities, is now trying to rebuild his life in Homestead after recently winning asylum in Miami immigration court.
Chavira, a former resident of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, is one of the first Mexican refugees from the drug war in Mexico to obtain asylum in Miami. He said in an interview that he fled to El Paso, Texas, on Sept. 1, 2011, after paying a ransom to the abductors of his son, Edgar Ivan, 22, who was held hostage for five days. He did not disclose the ransom amount.
Immigration Judge Lourdes Martínez-Esquivel granted Chavira and six members of his family asylum on Feb. 27, one of the few grants of asylum to Mexicans by an immigration court since violence began to escalate in Mexico in 2006.
The latest figures from the Executive Office for Immigration Review, the Justice Department unit that oversees immigration courts, show that of the 9,206 Mexicans who applied for asylum in fiscal year 2012, only 126 were permitted to settle in the United States. That is almost three times the number of Mexicans who were granted asylum in 2006.
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It has been tougher for Mexicans than for citizens of other Latin American countries to get asylum. For instance, 131 Venezuelans and 130 Colombians were granted asylum last year.
Chinese citizens appear to have an easier time winning asylum. Out of 10,985 who applied in 2012, 5,383 saw their asylum applications approved.
Few Mexicans seek asylum in Miami. Most file their petitions in the states adjacent to Mexico — Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.
An official from the Mexican consulate in Miami, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “The official position for the consulate is that we will not comment. No comment.”
High-ranking Mexican officials who have visited Miami recently have said that violence in Mexico is limited to certain areas, including some border cities, but that it does not affect the whole country.
Chavira, 46, his wife, María Razo, 45, their son and daughter, a daughter-in-law and two grandchildren were granted asylum by Judge Martínez-Esquivel, according to immigration court records.
Chavira said he came straight to Homestead because he had a daughter living there. He said he needed to get away from danger and to gather his thoughts.
“I didn’t come with the intention to seek asylum,” he said. “I came here scared.”
But upon settling here, and with the family having heard his chilling story, they urged him not to return to Mexico.
“They told me that I definitely cannot go back, and that I should seek help in this country,” he said.
Chavira said his son’s abduction prompted him to flee, but that it wasn’t his first scare. He said that prior to the kidnapping he had been the target of many threats.
In Ciudad Juarez, as in some other Mexican cities, much of the violence comes from gangs that extort protection money from prominent residents and business owners in exchange for not kidnapping or killing them.
Chavira applied for asylum in 2012, but his application was initially rejected and referred to immigration court. His attorney, Ted Texidor, persuaded Judge Martínez-Esquivel that his client’s life and those of his family members were in imminent danger and that they were the victims of persecution.
“The attorney was able to prove that he was a political activist and a union leader and that he was personally targeted,” said paralegal Tony Villareal, who described the process that Chavira went through to obtain asylum “as a nightmare.”
Texidor expressed confidence about the prospects of other Mexicans being granted asylum in light of Chavira’s success.
“I think the immigration judges are opening their eyes to the fact that people are coming here from Mexico not just to work but they are coming to flee their country for the safety of their lives,” he said.
For Chavira, who survived for more than a year in the United States on nothing much — he said he fled with only the clothes he was wearing — trying to start over is a huge task. But, he says, there is no going back.
“Thank God, it [the grant of asylum] has changed my life. At this time, we have a place that is a lot more peaceful to live in, and that is the most important thing,” he said.
“The situation in Mexico is terrible. There are people who abandon everything. They prefer to leave everything.”
Chavira said he would try to look for a job in the transportation industry — or any other job — and move on with his life.
El Nuevo Herald Staff Writer Alfonso Chardy contributed to this report.